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Hit where it hurts

Dan Wetzel
Yahoo Sports

The Pacers' roster is in ruins. Their season may not be far behind.

NBA commissioner David Stern lowered the boom Sunday for the wild melee that ended Indiana's game with Detroit on Friday. Ron Artest is gone for the season. Teammates Stephen Jackson and Jermaine O'Neal will miss 30 and 25 games, respectively.

All of which is devastating for the no-one-to-blame-but-themselves Pacers. But Sunday also could be a positive milestone in sports. Maybe now, teams will think twice about the personalities of the players they employ. Maybe character will count for something. Maybe talent won't be everything.

"We must affirm that the NBA will strive to exemplify the best that can be offered by professional sports, and not allow our sport to be debased by what seem to be declining expectations for behavior of fans and athletes alike," was how Stern put it.

The suspensions are not staggered, which means that the Pacers (at least until Jackson and O'Neal return) have gone from NBA championship contenders to one of the weaker teams in the league. A once-promising team now will need an incredible effort just to contend for a playoff spot.

By hitting a franchise where it counts – in the win column – Stern has sent a clear message: Sign emotional, potentially out-of-control players at your own risk.

Indiana is reeling not because its players lacked talent, but because they lacked maturity.

By now, any athlete who still thinks the proper response to getting hit by a cup of ice is to charge into the stands and start randomly attacking innocent people (Artest's primary offense) has a room-temperature IQ. The good news is, he probably has a future as an ESPN analyst/apologist.

We figure the players have gotten the message.

With any luck, so too have the teams, some of which would sign a homicidal maniac if they thought he would deliver at crunch time.

I posed the following question to three NBA executives Sunday: If last week someone hypothetically described the incident that played out in Detroit, which current player would you first think was involved?

All three just laughed. The answer was obvious.

"I bet 80 percent of the NBA would name Artest," said an Eastern Conference general manager.

Choosing between character and talent is "the most difficult part of our job," said a Central Division player personnel director. "You have to weigh a lot of [factors]."

Perhaps now qualities such as professionalism, maturity and self-control will carry a little more weight.

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